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Tag: Benoît Tréluyer

Benoit TreluyerAudi Sport trio Benoît Tréluyer, Marcel Fässler and Oliver Jarvis clinched victory in America’s most celebrated endurance race last weekend (March 16) following an intense final stint at the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Frenchman has thus added another of world motorsport’s most prestigious honours to his CV and helped confirm Audi Sport’s lofty ambitions for the season ahead.

After eleven hours of intense competition the final showdown took place between Benoît and fellow Audi driver Tom Kristensen, who was sharing with Allan McNish and Lucas di Grassi at the American classic. The deciding fight possessed all the suspense of a Hitchcock thriller and was made still more exhilarating by the Ingolstadt firm allowing their cars to race to the finish without team orders.

“Everything was decided during the closing stints when we had to put up a bit of a fight,” the Frenchman explains calmly. “We still had the advantage of a shorter refuelling period however, a bonus of around six seconds, which would have allowed us to win even if Tom had managed to overtake me during the penultimate stint. I took no risks when I re-joined the track and struggled to get my tyres up to temperature. In keeping with the usual approach, Audi did not issue team orders and it was up to us to sort it out on-track. It was a great race, very competitive and close-fought between both Audi cars. Fantastic!”

With significant changes arriving in US-based sportscar racing next year the 2013 event will remain forever engraved in the archives of this iconic American contest. An event rich in history, it has witnessed some of the sport’s finest drivers demonstrating their competitive abilities.

“My team-mates and I had only competed at Sebring once before (2012) and this year was the final chance to enter with an LMP1 car, so the whole team was determined to take victory. With half of the race run we saw that we had a good chance to achieve our goal. When we arrived here, we knew that the 2013-spec R18 e-tron quattro being run by Tom, Allan and Lucas was faster. Unfortunately, our team-mates’ preparations were delayed by an off-track excursion during first practice which cost them quite a lot of time. They were not able to put as much work into set-up as we were and, on top of that, Marcel, (race engineer) Leena Gade and I had the advantage of knowing our 2012-spec R18 e-tron quattro extremely well. We set it up nicely with a good balance to compensate for the lack of performance we had compared with the new car.”

This balance was to serve Fässler well in qualifying as he delivered a brilliant performance to clinch pole and set a new lap record for the Florida circuit.

“Marcel was on fire this weekend! Along with Leena, I really felt he was on the case and that he could take pole. He accepted the challenge and produced a mega time. Allan did two more laps in an effort to beat Marcel, but he couldn’t quite manage it. Olly – who joined us in place of André (Lotterer) – also did a great job. Marcel and I were thinking of our regular team-mate this weekend as we missed him a lot, but André showed what a fantastic team player he is by giving up his seat for Olly to allow him more track time. It was not an easy call for him as this is the last time that we’ll race at Sebring. Olly thanked him in the best way possible, delivering a great performance during the week and a superb night stint which allowed us to get the edge over the sister car and maintain our advantage.”

Benoît’s next competitive outing will be during the season-opening FIA World Endurance Championship round when the Audi Sport team will take on LMP1 class rivals Toyota in the 6 Hours of Silverstone (April 14).

“It’s going to be a very challenging season and we will need to grab every possible victory with both hands,” warns Benoît. “The level of competition should be extremely high as Toyota has worked hard over the winter, so we will have to continue to do the same. The fact that the new R18 e-tron quattro was able to finish the 12 Hours of Sebring during what represented its first real endurance test is very promising. Now we must keep up the development work for the season ahead.”

Having given the 2012 car a winning end to its competitive career, Benoît and his team-mates will next aim to record the new spec machine’s first victory at the Silverstone contest.

“In order to fine tune our preparations, we’re staying in Sebring for a few more days,” concludes the 2012 World Champion, who will then take a detour through Toronto to attend a round of the AMA Supercross series, a sport of which he is a big fan. It will represent a final opportunity for Benoît to catch his breath before the curtain comes up on the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship.

Benoit TreluyerDespite not being included as a round of the FIA WEC this year, the 12 Hours of Sebring signals the true start of the endurance racing season. Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler, who will be without regular team-mate André Lotterer, are hoping to christen their 2012 World Endurance Championship title with victory.

While both would have liked André to be joining them in Florida, a need to balance race programmes means that the German will be back alongside the pair from the opening round of the world championship, the 6 Hours of Silverstone, on April 14. At Sebring British driver Oliver Jarvis completes a trio that will be aiming to win with last year’s Audi R18 e-tron quattro, while the 2013-spec car will be in the hands of Di Grassi/Kristensen/McNish. “There are two slightly different objectives,” reveals Benoît. “By using the previous specification we are there to finish the event and win it. For our team-mates in the 2013 version their goal, as well as victory of course, is to test in proper race conditions the technical upgrades introduced during the winter months.”

Since the final round of the 2012 season Audi and its drivers have remained flat-out. Tyre testing before Christmas was followed by additional mileage during January that concentrated on set-up work. All has been aimed at improving the R18 e-tron quattro – an evolution of last year’s car – ahead of this season’s mission to beat Toyota, who have decided against racing in Florida.

“It is going to be a much tighter championship and certainly even more exciting than last year’s, as well as less stressful within the team. Since the start of 2012 we knew that the title would be decided between Audi’s two cars due to it being very hard for Toyota to catch up after not contesting the opening rounds and therefore having fewer opportunities to score points. There was greater tension. This year we need to work together more in order to meet Toyota’s challenge right from the start. I personally prefer this mentality! And we won’t be short of work either as there has already been a lot of focus towards 2014 and the arrival of brand new regulations.

“But that doesn’t mean this is a season of transition as it is very important to properly prepare for 2014,” insists Benoît. “Everything we learn this year will be helpful for the following season, which will involve a lot more than simply starting with a known quantity: there is the challenge of a brand new concept. We are satisfied with the developments brought to the R18 e-tron quattro but now we need to learn how to optimise them and make the most of their benefits.”

With this in mind, Sebring’s demanding layout is an ideal proving ground for new machinery. The Frenchman knows all too well about its challenging characteristics after being forced to spend a lengthy period in the pits last year. Needless to say he’s hoping for payback this time around…

“Of course I would like to win. It’s a difficult race with a lot of traffic, and there are different strategies compared to European events. On top of that, this is the last time we can contest the race with an LMP1 prototype so it’s something I would like to add to my CV. It’s a bit of an old fashioned race that takes place on a circuit partly constructed of concrete. Both the surface and track width vary, while there are some corners that we enter very quickly right next to the walls. It’s just incredible! This is a special race, a bit like the Le Mans 24 Hours, although it does not have the same aura.”

This first meeting of the season also represents Benoît with the opportunity to christen his world championship title. “It gives you a confidence boost,” he says modestly. “We know how difficult it is to win a championship and the slightest mistake can have serious consequences. Last year, especially at Sebring, we were unable to finish at the front and lost many points. That forced us to push really hard throughout the year without making errors. We are approaching the new season with the same philosophy.”

This measured, realistic but no less enthusiastic approach is one shared not only by the Normandy-based driver and Audi, but also a number of new personal partners. GT Bikes, cycle equipment specialists Sram (derailleurs, brakes, etc.) and off-road motorcycle manufacturer KTM have all joined forces with Tréluyer. “All of my partners are linked to my physical training,” he concludes. “Cycling and enduro motocross are the base of my physical preparation throughout the winter, so it is a huge pleasure for me to welcome these respected brands alongside my existing and faithful partners Ellip6 (professional racing simulators), Michelin, Motul, Alpinestars and Arai.

12 Hours of Sebring timetable*

Thursday 14 March
Free Practice 1: 10.15 – 11.15
Free Practice 2: 15.15 – 16.15
Free Practice 3: 20.00 – 21.45

Friday 15 March
Free Practice 4: 09.20 – 10.20
Qualifying: 13.15 – 14.35

Saturday 16 March
Warm-up: 08.00 – 08.25
12 Hours of Sebring: 10.45 – 22.45

Benoit TreluyerBenoît Tréluyer narrowly missed out on the top step of the podium in Sunday’s 6 Hours of Fuji (October 14) after on-track contact and a stop-go penalty left the Frenchman and his #1 Audi Sport team-mates just shy of victory. However, their second place finish ensures that the double Le Mans 24 Hours-winning crew of Tréluyer, André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler increase their lead atop the FIA World Endurance Championship ahead of the season finale in China later this month.

“I really enjoyed driving here,” said Benoit on Sunday night, still smiling despite the frustration of narrowly missing out on a tenth career win at the Fuji circuit. “We enjoyed an incredible welcome from the Japanese fans. During the autograph session it was suggested that André, Marcel and I left earlier than planned as there was not enough security to match the size of the crowd – it was crazy! They waved flags and chanted the Audi name.” After receiving such support from the Japanese fans Benoît wanted to keep his disappointment in check, but the Alençon native could not help but wonder what might have been.

“Qualifying went well thanks to some fantastic teamwork. We hit upon a set-up that allowed us to run within a good operating window and had an aggressive race strategy. André took the start and kept the leading Toyota well within reach throughout his time in the car. I replaced him for my double stint and managed to pass Nicolas Lapierre for the lead. After making my pit-stop I dropped back a little and was losing too much time passing traffic, perhaps due being a touch over-cautious. I began pushing hard but became stuck behind the #97 Aston Martin. It was being passed by another LMP1, so I looked to follow through only for the Aston to move across on me. The door was opened and then slammed shut just as quickly.” The GTE Pro machine driven by Stefan Mücke made contact with the Audi and spun, dislodging the #1 car’s nose in the process.

“I thought something was broken, but it was just a section of bodywork caught beneath the wheel. Once that was gone everything was fine. Leena (Gade, the #1 crew’s race engineer) came over the radio and told me to pit at the end of the lap, but I knew Marcel would not be ready and that we would lose a lot of time. With that in mind I asked to complete one more lap. When I stopped the new nose was waiting to be fitted and Marcel was ready to take the wheel.”

With debris on the circuit the safety car was soon deployed, allowing the #1 to remain in the hunt for victory, but their luck would quickly turn again as the stewards issued them with a stop-go penalty.

“We were a little surprised to be hit with a stop-go as other drivers making contact throughout the race only recieved warnings,” said Benoît. “But we just got on with it and revised our strategy a little. We decided not to switch drivers during the final stint and wanted to have the option not to change tyres. As it was too much to ask Marcel to run three sucessive stints André took the wheel for the last stretch of the race. He didn’t change tyres and went on the attack, but it wasn’t quite enough. Without the penalty victory was definitely within reach, but after such a delay it wasn’t possible.”

Having already collected victories at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, 6 Hours of Silverstone and 6 Hours of Bahrain the #1 crew would have to settle for a runner-up finish in Japan, a result that neverthless extends their lead in the drivers’ championship to 16.5 points over the sister Audi R18 e-tron quattro pairing of Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish.

“Even a win in Fuji wouldn’t have been enough to seal the championship this weekend, so it doesn’t change a great deal from our perspective,” Benoît reflected. “Now we know that a top-three finish in China will seal the title. Of course, André, Marcel and I are a touch disappointed as we really wanted to win here for our fans and the Audi team. They deserved victory for their hard work and for preparing our R18 e-tron quattro which was once again fast, fuel-efficient and extremely strong.”

It is these vital qualities that the three team-mates will carry into the final encounter of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship at Shanghai International Circuit on October 28.

To keep up to date with Benoît on and off the circuit please visit www.benoittreluyer.com, follow him on Twitter @BenoitTreluyer and like his Facebook page.

Benoit TreluyerAfter taking nine victories at the Mount Fuji circuit over a decade spent competing in the Land of the Rising Sun, Benoît Tréluyer returns to the sacred mountain this weekend (October 14) for the penultimate FIA World Endurance Championship event of the season hunting win number 10.

It has been almost a year since Benoît set foot in Japan and the Frenchman is hard pushed to recall when he last spent so long away from his adoptive homeland. “12 years ago, maybe,” says Tréluyer, who forged his racing reputation in the country thanks to countless victories and titles in Formula 3 (2001), Formula Nippon (2006) and Super GT (2008). Though the Alençon native now resides in the south of France, he has not forgotten the country that gave him his big break, nor the fans who adopted him as one of their own.

“I arrived in Tokyo on Monday morning,” explains Benoît. “I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep on the plane! I haven’t been here since last December and must admit that I missed Japan. At Narita airport, it was strange to have to go to the rental counter rather than having my own car waiting for me. I had the odd feeling of being away from home and yet somewhere very familiar.”

Benoît spent his day in the Japanese capital visiting friends who will not be at Sunday’s race, then headed for the city of Gotemba at the foot of sacred Mount Fuji.

“I lived in Gotemba for two years,” says Benoît. “I had a house there and got to know the place very well. On Tuesday evening I went to Mizuki, a teppanyaki restaurant where I used to eat regularly, which is about two hundred yards from my old home. The boss was never the talkative type, but when I walked in he put down his chopsticks to greet me and ask about my wife Melanie and my son Jules. It was an honour and I really appreciated the gesture. I was accompanied by André (Lotterer), my journalist friend Yumiko and her husband Iga’chan, who was my mechanic in Super GT.”

Though an old friendship unites Lotterer and Benoît, the pair rarely worked together in Japan. “Coming to Fuji with Andre is very different from the old days,” he smiles. “When I raced in Japan we drove for different teams and didn’t stay in the same hotels. Now we travel together and, as we both still have our own little tricks and shortcuts, we argue playfully while Marcel (Fässler) watches in amazement!”

The third member of the world championship-leading crew has never raced in Japan and is sampling his first experience of the country while his two team-mates act as eager tour guides.

“We’ve let him see our Japan and are delighted to do so,” says Benoît. “I’ve left so much of myself in this country that I still feel at home here. I think it is the same for André.”

As such Benoît is keen to share his visit with the Japanese fans who cheered him on during his Formula Nippon and Super GT days. “It is still fairly quiet at the moment, but there will be a lot of people at the circuit this weekend. The organisers are talking about 20,000 spectators, but I know there will be more. Obviously, with the F1 grand prix at Suzuka last week and MotoGP racing at Motegi this weekend, Japanese motorsport fans are very busy in October. That said I’m sure they will turn out in force and I am looking forward to the reunion.”

Before that, Benoît has had the chance to get back behind the wheel of his #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro at the track on which he has triumphed nine times in single-seaters and GTs.

“I won the last race on the old circuit and the first on the new one so I have a good record here, even if it’s not my favourite track in Japan. It is quite technical, with an extremely long straight that ends with a hairpin before three fast corners and then some slow turns. In our Audi, the braking for turn one is just incredible – I’ve never braked so late here! In fact, it took several attempts to forget my old marks. We completed a lot of work during the test session and all three of us got through what we needed to. We now have all day tomorrow for data analysis and to prepare ourselves fully for the weekend.”

The Japanese race will be vital for Benoît and his team-mates who currently lead the championship by 13.5 points from fellow Audi drivers Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish. With just two rounds left to run, Japan could be the scene of another great moment in Tréluyer’s career .

Timetable

Friday 12 October
11.00-12.30: Free practice 1
15.30-17.00: Free practice 2

Saturday 13 October
09.25-10.25: Free practice 3
13.30-13.55: Qualifying

Sunday 14 October
07.55-08.15: Warm-up
11.00: Six Hours of Fuji

To keep up to date with Benoît on and off the circuit please visit www.benoittreluyer.com, follow him on Twitter @BenoitTreluyer and like his Facebook page.

Having grabbed the upper hand in the chase for this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship with victory in the 6 Hours of Silverstone, Audi Sport driver Benoît Tréluyer is now targeting success in his maiden race at legendary Brazilian venue Interlagos (September 15).

Last month’s triumph in Britain marked Tréluyer and his #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro crewmates André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler’s first win for the German manufacturer away from Le Mans. Coming off the back of their second triumph at La Sarthe in June, it sets the trio up perfectly for the long-haul races that will decide this year’s drivers’ title.

The World Endurance Championship calendar visits some of the most iconic venues in motorsport and, fresh from a successful maiden race at Silverstone, Tréluyer is now preparing to make his bow at another hallowed circuit.

But location-wise the two could not be more different, with Silverstone set amongst sleepy English villages and Interlagos lying within the urban sprawl of downtown Sao Paulo. The race represents the Frenchman’s first trip to the South American nation, where one racing idol casts a particularly long shadow.

“I’ve never been to Brazil before,” explains Benoît, “but for me, it’s the country of football, samba and of course Senna. When I roll out of the pits for the first time on Thursday I’ll be thinking of this great champion. I don’t know if it will be a specific emotion, but he will certainly be on my mind.”

Interlagos’ reputation is built upon unforgettable moments in motor racing history that make it amongst the most famous circuits in the world. While this could coax Tréluyer into feeling he already knows the layout, he has nevertheless been learning the track at the wheel of his Ellip6 home simulator.

“I will go to Brazil well prepared, even if I have had less time to work in the simulator than I did ahead of Silverstone,” said Benoît. “Interlagos is an anti-clockwise track and it looks fantastic fun. We’ll need to use the four hours of free practice to hone our set-up for the curbs and hilly sections.”

Like Tréluyer, the Manufacturers’ World Championship-winning Audi squad will be making their maiden appearance at Interlagos, taking on a Toyota team that can count on the experience of numerous Formula 1 races at the circuit. “They can also rely on the knowledge of Alex Wurz, who has raced there several times in F1,” notes Tréluyer.

Audi meanwhile have added a Brazilian flavour to their team, with Lucas di Grassi joining Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen – the #1 crew’s chief World Championship rivals – in the #2 R18 Ultra at Interlagos.

But though local boy di Grassi will justifiably take the lion’s share of home support, Tréluyer and team-mate Lotterer could also be set to meet a surprising number of fans on their maiden trip to Brazil thanks to the large Japanese community found in Sao Paulo, with both men having forged their racing reputations in the land of the rising sun.

While support from the grandstands would be warmly greeted by Tréluyer and his crewmates, the back-up they will ultimately rely on comes from their Audi outfit, including engineer Leena Gade and their team of mechanics. The back-to-back Le Mans 24 Hours winners will be targeting a third successive World Endurance Championship race triumph in Brazil, though Tréluyer sees title talk as premature at this stage, focussing instead on victories.

“For the moment we’re taking it race-by-race,” the Frenchman affirmed. “The championship is of course the goal, but we’ll look at the points when the season is done. Right now, the next victory is all that matters.”

Tréluyer knows that if he and his team remain focussed and continue performing as they have done throughout the 2012 season, they will continue to break new ground the world over.

Event schedule (local time)

Thursday 13 September
11.00 – 12.30: Free practice 1
15.30 – 17.00: Free practice 2

Friday 14 September
09.45 – 10.45: Free practice 3
14.30 – 14.50: Qualifying LMP1 and LMP2

Saturday 15 September
08.00 – 08.20: Warm-up
12.00 – 18.00: Race

To keep up to date with Benoît on and off the circuit please visit www.benoittreluyer.com, follow him on Twitter @BenoitTreluyer and like his Facebook page.

Benoit TreluyerAt the height of summer, Benoit Tréluyer has been treated to a torrent of personal firsts, starting at Silverstone and continuing in Moscow. Here, he recounts a week that will be forever synonymous with victory and premieres.

The final week of August 2012 will live long in the memory of Benoit Tréluyer who, in the space of just seven days, experienced a wide range of emotions. His first visit to the legendary Silverstone circuit was a winning one, simultaneously helping Audi score their maiden FIA World Endurance Championship Manufacturers’ crown and scaling the summit of the Drivers’ standings, before the Frenchman’s week of ‘firsts’ was completed with his maiden visit to Russia.

“Honestly, I did not realise that we could claim the title for Audi so soon,” says Benoit, reflecting on seven days that will remain forever etched in his memory. “We arrived at Silverstone with one goal: victory. This title is a logical step for Audi after spending more than ten years at the pinnacle of the prototype category and scoring eleven wins – if you count Bentley’s – at the last twelve Le Mans 24 Hours. It’s also a big ‘thank you’ to Audi for everything the company has done for endurance racing. Without them, the very existence of this world championship could not have been realised. When it happened, the emotions were a little restrained due to the limited numbers of team personnel present compared to Le Mans, because we are still developing the car. It won’t be until the end of the season that we really enjoy and celebrate this title. The championship is won but we are not finished. The goal now is to win the maximum amount we can by the end of the year. Everyone remains motivated and returned from England eager for further success.”

This was Audi’s fourth win of the season following the team’s success at Sebring, Spa and Le Mans. But it was a significant one for the Alençon native who had never won for the Ingolstadt firm outside of the 24 Hours.

“It was an important step for me,” Benoit confirms. “After two victories at Le Mans it’s true that I was keen to do well at other circuits. Alongside Marcel (Fässler) and André (Lotterer) we have been unlucky at races other than the 24 Hours, but Silverstone allowed us to put that right. While luck was not on our side at Spa, it certainly was at Silverstone. I couldn’t have hoped for a better conclusion to my first visit to this legendary track. Silverstone is the type of circuit that you dream of driving around, one that combines the history and individual character you also feel at Spa, Suzuka, Monza or Monaco. I was well prepared, had practiced on the simulator so as not to waste time memorising the circuit, and was not disappointed by the magic of the place.”

After six hours the icing on Benoit’s cake was seeing his name at the head of the Drivers’ world championship, another important milestone in any racer’s career.

“I won the F3 World Cup (Macau/Korea) but I have never been in a position to lead a world championship! Obviously that’s great but we remain focused. With André and Marcel, we have come a long way since scoring so few points in the first race. To take the lead mid-season is therefore very gratifying, but we know everything can turn around quickly.”

That’s especially true after the trio nosed ahead of the other leading Audi featuring Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen. It therefore promises to be an enthralling final four rounds in the race to be crowned drivers’ champions.

“I wish that our main rivals for the drivers’ championship title were from another team, but this is the way it is. We will do everything to avoid the sort of tension that could create a situation. For the moment all is going well. We always work together so perfectly. This cohesion is also what gives Audi such strength, something we must preserve even if, as we approach this season’s conclusion, the pressure inevitably begins to rise. We must be vigilant and ensure that the competition does not disturb this harmony.”

In two weeks the Frenchman’s fight continues at another iconic circuit: Interlagos.

“I have never set foot in Brazil and cannot wait to discover the famous Sao Paulo circuit,” enthuses Benoit. “Once again we are preparing meticulously because the competition will be even higher. We are taking each race as it comes, without thinking that too much is at stake. In order to win a title you must work hard to deserve it!”

In the wake of Silverstone, the double Le Mans 24 Hours winner travelled to Moscow for the Russian media presentation of the Audi S6, S7 and S8, as well as the launch of the new R8 GT Plus. And with that the curtain was brought down on his week of firsts. Next up comes the discovery of Sao Paulo’s famous Samba dance!

To keep up to date with Benoît on and off the circuit please visit www.benoittreluyer.com, follow him on Twitter @BenoitTreluyer and like his Facebook page.

Audi R18 TDIIt is with great eagerness that Benoît Tréluyer awaits the start of the World Endurance Championship in America on March 17, for the revival of this historic contest also heralds a new start for the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours winner.

And for Benoît the launch of this new season cannot come quickly enough following two months away from the cockpit. It is incredible to note that the Audi Motorsport driver has not experienced such a long winter break in a decade. “I was so relieved after the recent two days of testing,” he explains. “It was a great feeling and nice to receive a proper dose of adrenaline. It was important for me to get back behind the wheel and back into routine.”

Despite not yet knowing whether he will contest the entire World Endurance Championship (WEC), which blasts back into life at Sebring after twenty years of silence, Benoît does not regret the decision to end his Super GT involvement in Japan.

“The important thing is that I will be focusing on Audi’s programme this year. To offer everything I could meant it was necessary to make a choice and I opted for Audi. I was not tired of racing in Japan, where I have enjoyed some fantastic moments, but in the end I could not resist the appeal of the unknown. It is very exciting to be part of motorsport heritage reborn. I remember Group C at the beginning of the nineties. Those cars were fabulous and I dreamt about racing them so, being there at the first race of its spiritual successor really means something. The feeling takes me back to the start of my career when everything was new, or when I first landed in Japan. I have missed that feeling of discovery.”

For the Audi driver, that exploration begins with the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, a classic race on the US calendar and a piece of world motorsport history in its own right.

“I know the Sebring circuit because I’ve tested there with Audi for the past two years, but never raced the 12 Hours,” underlines Benoît. “It’s a nice track and quite unusual but this time I’m not going to be alone. There will be 60-plus other cars around me! It’s quite a daunting race to start with so it’s very important to stay calm at the beginning. Traffic will certainly be the key. Those who make it to the chequered flag have a great chance of reaching the podium. Also, there are some critical corners like Turn 1 and 17, namely the first and last where it is very easy to make mistakes!”

Benoît, along with familiar team-mates André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler (Audi has reunited last year’s Le Mans-winning line-up), is well aware that the testing sessions on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 of March will be crucial if the team is to go into Thursday’s official free practice full of confidence. “We will be driving an updated version of the Audi R18 TDI from last year which means switching from the all-new hybrid Audi R18 e-tron Quattro. We will have to adapt slightly as the cars are rather different despite looking quite similar. They do not share the same characteristics so we will need a bit of time to find our feet again,” explains the Frenchman who flew to the US at the beginning of the month.

“I came with my family to get some rest and even went to watch Supercross – my first passion – in St Louis before heading to Miami. I cannot wait to plunge back into the special atmosphere that is unique to American racing!”

It’s an atmosphere Benoît would love to toast with a drop of French champagne…

12 Hours of Sebring Timetable (CET minus 6 hours):

Thursday 15 March:
10h00 – 11h00: Practice 1
14h50 – 15h50: Practice 2
19h35 – 21h20: Practice 3 (night)

Friday 16 March:
09h35 – 10h55: Practice 4
15h55 – 16h10: Qualifying LMP1/LMP2

Saturday 17 March:
08h00 – 08h25: Warm-Up
10h30: 12 Hours of Sebring

Benoît TréluyerAfter a winter break that proved as discreet as it was serious, Benoît Tréluyer’s season began in earnest at Le Mans last weekend where the three new Audi R18 TDIs made their first public appearance. With the successful test complete, he now heads to Japan for 2011’s opening Super GT round.

On Sunday evening, after the official test for the forthcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, Benoît’s smile revealed his delight at returning to competitive action and the targets he has set for 2011. Following months of development work, the first public appearance of Audi’s brand new prototype was a great moment.

“We have completed a lot of mileage since the end of last season so it is a great reward to see the car at the top of the timesheets,” he said. “We have to remain cautious as we are not totally ready yet, but it is looking good. The Audi R18 TDI is totally different from the Audi R15 TDI of last year and there is a lot of expectation. New regulations, a closed car, the desire to prove that we can be more reliable than our rivals whilst at the same time being faster; with this car Audi wanted to come back with a bang!”

While Benoît remained guarded on the potential of Ingolstadt’s latest prototype, he was more open when discussing its ease of usability.

“What is certain is that we have a car which is easy to drive. It’s great in the Porsche Esses for instance which is a critical section of the circuit. You enter the corner without any apprehension, whilst normally it can be a bit hairy! As a driver, it’s a big deal to enjoy driving and that helps improve overall performance.”

Focusing on the basics was the German manufacturer’s main objective over the Easter weekend at La Sarthe. “Shakedown the three cars and test several different things, followed by a major debrief with all the team’s engineers in order to get the most out of the gathered data! We did not take it easy!”

Benoît’s preparations for the famous event continue on 6/7 May in the Ardennes region during the 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps.

Before then, another of his season’s commitments will have already begun. This weekend, in Japan, the Super GT championship kicks off at Fuji. Just as the entire country was badly affected by the terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March, so Japanese motorsport is slowly finding its feet again. For all its fans and those associated with the sport, the first meeting of 2011 will have strong symbolic value and be marked by great solemnity.

“I was in Tokyo the day of the earthquake,” said Benoît in La Sarthe. “It was not what scared me, but the tsunami which I witnessed live on television and the difficulty realising it was only 100 kilometres away. Then Fukushima happened… I left shortly afterwards for Audi testing. I have not returned since, but have spoken to the team nearly every day on the phone or by email.

“I will be delighted to see everyone again even if I’m going back with some apprehension. Saying that, I have never questioned returning in light of the nuclear issues as Japan has offered me so much.”

Benoît left Le Mans on Sunday night, making a quick visit to his home, before flying off to Tokyo. On Friday he will be reunited with his Motul Autech squad, team mate Satoshi Motoyama and the Nissan GT-R with which he intends to recapture the title won in 2008. In life as on the track, it’s safe to say he’s flat out!